The Downtown Boxing Gym (DBG) champions literacy for children – and the nation is taking notes. DBG is the proud recipient of a 2023 Library of Congress Literacy Award for making a significant and measurable contribution to increasing literacy levels in the United States.

“We’re different because we put the students’ voice first in everything we do,” said Katie Solomon, programs director and chief operating officer at DBG, as the DBG team accepted the award October 18 in Washington, D.C.

Katie was joined by DBG founder and CEO Khali Sweeney, executive director, Jessica Hauser, and data literacy manager Skylar Burkhardt to accept the The American Prize from the U.S. Library of Congress. Throughout their acceptance speech, the DBG team reflected on the life changing moments they’ve have a hand in creating over the years, including helping students overcome the challenges they faced with virtual learning during the pandemic. Click the video player below to watch highlights from the award ceremony.

During her speech, Katie highlighted a then-fifth grade student who struggled to connect through computers and juggle the technology associated with virtual learning during the pandemic. The DBG team realized he was reading at a second-grade level. Once the student shared his struggles, they knew they could help him succeed.

“This is where DBG does what DBG does best,” she said. “We create individualized plans to meet students right where they are and remove whatever barriers are in the way so they can do what they need to do to get where they need to be.”

Today, that same student is in eighth grade and he’s reading at a level above his peers. Katie explained the magic behind DBG’s approach as her speech continued.

“Really what it boils down to is the powerful combination of individualized intervention, enrichment programming, wrap around services and mentorship that’s built around the strong relationships we build with our students and parents, the entire family, year after year after year,” she said.

The Library of Congress Literacy Awards honor organizations worldwide that have made outstanding contributions to increasing literacy levels. For Khali, the honor of receiving a national literary award is a remarkable feat, and a stark contrast from his experiences growing up.

“All the way until the 12th grade I couldn’t read, write, spell, at all. Period. They just gave me a good report card every year and passed me along,” he told the crowd. “I wasn’t scared of the police… I wasn’t scared to die. The only thing that struck fear in my heart was a book. A piece of paper scared me. A book scared me because I couldn’t read, and I wanted to so bad.”

Khali’s educational and life experiences and desire to make a difference for young people inspired him to start DBG back in 2007. Today, the nationally recognized youth development program has served more than 1,500 students, supporting kids ages 8 through adulthood.

“What we truly want to measure … is how well students can achieve their dreams,” said Skylar. “We believe there’s essential human dignity in allowing students to define their own needs, set their own goals, and pursue their own dreams.”

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